Cast: Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen, Millard Mitchell, Cyd Charisse
Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actress (Jean Hagen), Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture (Lennie Hayton)
SUMMARY: Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont are silent film costars whose studio has romantically linked them in order to boost their appeal. In reality, Don can’t stand the annoying, air-headed Lina, but she seems to believe that they really are involved. After the premiere of their latest movie, Don flees from rabid fans and jumps into a car driven by Kathy Selden. Kathy claims to be a serious stage actress, but Don later finds out that she is a chorus girl. Despite their rocky beginning, Kathy and Don later begin a romance (much to Lina’s irritation).
After a rival studio has a hit with a “talking” picture, Don’s studio decides to convert their next movie into a talkie. However, Lina’s voice is extremely irritating, and her diction is horrible. After a terrible screen test, Don, Kathy and Don’s friend Cosmo get the idea to convert the movie into a musical, and dub Lina’s voice with Kathy’s. The studio intends to promote Kathy in this role, but Lina threatens the studio, and all publicity for Kathy is canceled. At the premiere, the new version of the movie is a smash hit, and the audience calls for Lina to sing live. When she goes on stage, Don and Cosmo make sure that her microphone is turned off, and have Kathy sing into a live microphone behind the curtain. During the song, Don and Cosmo raise the curtain, revealing the true singer. Don then announces that Kathy was the true voice of the new film. The end of the movie shows Kathy and Don kissing in front of the billboard for their latest film.
MY TAKE: This is frequently rated as the greatest movie musical of all time. Being a rabid Sound of Music fan, I take offense at that, but I will acknowledge that this movie is terrific. Obviously, the music is great, but the movie is also really funny. The Lina Lamont character is a stitch, particularly when she’s trying to learn new diction. There are also a number of times when she believes she is saying something smart, while everybody else realizes that it makes no sense. One of the best musical scenes of the movie is when Cosmo sings “Make ‘Em Laugh” – the dancing that he does is extraordinary (it’s no wonder that he was hospitalized after completing the filming of this scene). As always, Gene Kelly is amazing to watch in his dancing, and a cameo role by Cyd Charisse only improves things. A bit of trivia: there was recently a coffee commercial that used a song called “Good Morning” – that song is from this film.
There is a historical aspect to this movie – the Lina Lamont character is based on Norma Talmadge, a real-life star of silent films who couldn’t transition to talkies. The head of the studio in the movie is also partly based on Arthur Freed, the producer of Singin’ in the Rain. In an ironic twist, during the scene where Lina is singing “Would You” (supposedly dubbed by Kathy), the speaking voice really is Jean Hagen, whose real voice sounded nothing like Lina Lamont’s. So, in this instance, Jean Hagen (Lina) is dubbing Debbie Reynolds (Kathy), who is supposedly dubbing Jean Hagen’s character Lina. Additionally, the singing voice in the “Would You” song, as well as in “You Are My Lucky Star” is actually Betty Noyes, not Debbie Reynolds – she was dubbed. It leaves me wondering if the crew ever knew whose voice they were hearing.
RATING: A movie that has defied aging and remains both very funny and very impressive.